States rap DHS info-sharing

State officials in charge of intelligence fusion centers told Congress yesterday that numerous federal information-sharing systems and programs don't mesh with state and local information sources, which in turn aren't connected with one another. They also condemned federal methods of withholding information from state and local officials on the grounds that it is classified.

The state fusion center officials spoke during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

Col. Kenneth Bouche of the Illinois State Police said in his statement, 'It truly dismays me to think that five years after the September 11 attacks, we are still not where we should be regarding the exchange of information needed to prevent and respond to attacks and possible threats against our communities.'

Bouche, like the other witnesses, cited the importance of state fusion centers in helping state, local, city and regional agencies pool their resources, especially within their own areas. States, cities and regions have already established or planned some 42 fusion centers, which merge information from multiple agencies to respond to all types of hazards.

But he joined other state officials in condemning Washington's penchant for needlessly classifying information. 'The present system is archaic and designed to keep information secret, and this system does not work in the current information-sharing environment.' Bouche said.

'Additionally, federal security clearances are not recognized between agencies, and the process for local, state and tribal officials to receive a clearance is cumbersome and frequently takes multiple months or years to complete,' Bouche said in his written testimony.

Bouche called the need for a consolidated information sharing environment 'a priority issue,' and listed existing systems that don't directly connect or don't connect at all:
  • Regional Information Sharing Systems
  • Law Enforcement Online
  • Homeland Security Information Network
  • International Justice and Public Safety Information Sharing Network.

'Currently, users must sign on to multiple systems in order to access information,' Bouche said. 'Rather than develop new systems, it is recommended that the existing networks and systems be modified and augmented, based on continuing information needs.'

Amy Whitmore, analyst supervisor at the Virginia State Police's fusion center, said her organization must continuously monitor several homeland security and intelligence systems. In addition to the systems Bouche listed, she cited the Federal Protective Services Secure Portal System and 'several other state and local systems.' The process wastes time as fusion center personnel review information that often is redundant, she added.

State homeland security agencies also struggle with the question of how to report information to federal officials.

'Having one federal point of contact would eliminate any guesswork in forwarding information,' she said. Such a system would reduce wasted effort and redundant reporting, according to her written testimony.

Whitmore joined Bouche in condemning federal methods of providing security clearances to state and local officials. She cited incompatible security clearance policies of the Homeland Security, Justice and Defense departments. 'Information and intelligence is still being overclassified,' she said.

Richard L. Ca'as, director of the New Jersey Homeland Security and Preparedness Office, pointed to the lack of a national center for pooling information about homeland security threats.

'A center that builds a national data bank from local information, from the ground up, as we are doing locally [is needed],' Ca'as said. 'If there is such an effort, the intelligence and emergency response communities of New Jersey are not routinely being informed about it.'

He called on DHS to 'step up and provide a clearer road map, or template, if you will, so that intelligence and information from states such as ours can be easily synthesized with information and intelligence from other states, as well as from the national perspective.'

Charles E. Allen, DHS' assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis, described a robust federal information-sharing process and planning system for the fusion centers'a description not reflected in the state officials' testimony.

Allen said most states have used federal Global Fusion Center Guidelines, issued a year ago and since updated, as a planning tool.

The guidelines cover technology standards and procedures, according to Allen's written testimony. 'This revised guideline document also recommends that the fusion centers prepare for future connectivity with other state, federal and local systems,' Allen said.

DHS is creating links with the state and local fusion centers partly by embedding members of its own staff in the centers, Allen said. Each fusion center that includes a DHS representative also will get a link to the Homeland Security Data Network, the department's top-secret communications link.

'In the first instance, only my officers will have access [to HSDN at the fusion centers], but I plan to expand access over time to state personnel,' Allen said. DHS already has embedded its intelligence officers at fusion centers in New York, Los Angeles, Louisiana, Georgia and Maryland, Allen said. DHS plans to station its intelligence officers in 18 separate centers by Oct. 1, 2007, he added.

The state officials' testimony did not reflect knowledge of the DHS plans Allen described.

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